Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Q+A with Editor: Anne-Marie Kinney

Radio Iris is a first novel by an exceptionally talented young writer named Anne-Marie Kinney that we have slated to release on May 15, 2012. I'm really excited to unleash this book and I hope you'll be excited to read it. Most movies or books I can think of that portray water-cooler culture are overtly masculine and most often slapstick. Radio Iris takes the recycled air, mechanical dings, and paper jams and transforms them into this highly artistic, existential, ambient dream of a novel. What were some of your inspirations in crafting this world, and also in imagining its hazy ambiance?

There’s a bit from the Maria Bamford show where her character says, about her office job, “I’m experiencing a deep, unceasing boredom. It’s almost spiritual.” It’s a perfect description of certain jobs wherein one is expected to do very little, but be present, in one spot, for eight hours a day. I had one such job. If no one was calling or emailing me, then I was to…wait for them to call or email me. In such a position, it is very easy to slip into a kind of trance. You start to listen very closely to the silence, and to dissect it until it isn’t silence at all. Your heart jumps when the door opens, and it’s the mailman, handing you the mail. Like Iris, you may become fixated on a window located very high up on a wall, and wonder what its purpose could be, where no one can see into or out of it. And, you begin to notice any minute variation in your surroundings, be it the trajectory of a bug skittering along the wall, a note jotted down with a different pen, or a clue that a stranger is living in the office next door. Spiritual is exactly what it is. If you’re bored enough, you can make the air hum.

As an aside, I encourage everyone to watch the Maria Bamford show in its entirety: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-oQd59rGVA&feature=related

Iris Finch works for Larmax, Inc. She doesn’t know what the company does or how it makes money. Her boss describes himself as a businessman. In what could be a portrait of our age of downsizing, Iris’ fellow employees seem to vanish one by one almost without her realizing it. Does any of this come from your own personal experience in corporate America?

I’ve worked in a lot of offices, both long term and temping, and I’ve had the experience of working in large departments where you see the same people every day, but you don’t really know most of them, or ever say anything more meaningful to each other than “Good morning” or “Have a good one.” And you may memorize someone’s wardrobe (He wore that shirt last Monday too- is that his Monday shirt?), or recognize the sound of their shoes as they come down the hall, but then maybe you don’t immediately realize that they haven’t been around in a while. You ask somebody, “Hey, where’s that one guy…?” And it turns out he’s gone. Maybe you were out sick the day they had cake for him in the break room, and now you’ll never see his Monday shirt ever again. What happens in Radio Iris is an amplification of that phenomenon. What if you go to work every day and do everything you’re supposed to do, and then, gradually, without any great fanfare, you find yourself alone?

Oldies music plays a part in the novel, where it’s sort of always there and also not there. If your life were an oldies tune, which would it be?

I don’t know how to define “oldies tune” anymore, because my local oldies station, KRTH 101, plays Michael Jackson songs now. And new wave! They were playing I Melt with You the other day. What the hell? I’m not sure any song can encapsulate a life, but when you say “oldies,” I think of the songs I taped from the radio as a kid, and would listen to over and over on my walkman, under the covers at night, with the volume turned down real low - Everyday by Buddy Holly, You Were on My Mind by We Five, Bus Stop by The Hollies - all that achingly romantic stuff. Those songs can be pretty trance-inducing too.

You originally went to college at USC to pursue acting before deciding to pursue creative writing – what was that transition like?

I did think I wanted to be an actress when I was growing up. Truth is, I just liked dressing up in costumes and receiving flowers. But anyway, when I arrived at USC with theatrical aspirations, I got involved with this scrappy little troupe called Brand New Theatre (that’s a shoutout), and quickly figured out that I was having a lot more fun writing sketches than I was performing in them. I found my way to the creative writing department, where I got to study with such amazing writers as Aimee Bender, T.C. Boyle and David St. John, and that’s how I figured out what I really wanted to do. I guess that’s a pretty boring story.

You mention in your bio that your “Frisbee dog” has won trophies. Explain.

My dog, Dee Dee Ramone, an Australian Cattle Dog/Chow/Lab mix, knew how to play Frisbee without any instruction. One Saturday, for the hell of it, my husband Abe threw a Frisbee at her in the empty parking lot of the Social Security office, and she caught it. We each threw it several more times, and she caught every single throw. Clearly, this talent needed to be nurtured, so Abe started taking her to a weekly Frisbee class to learn tricks, like having her jump over his leg to get the Frisbee, and do really long distance throws. They participated in some competitions and won two trophies over the course of her Frisbee career, but ultimately, the competitions were a drag. You’d have to drive to some park way out in Fullerton or wherever and mostly sit around all day waiting for your dog’s turn. We still play Frisbee pretty much every day, but strictly on an amateur basis.


francis said...

"You start to listen very closely to the silence" is a wonderful iteration. Best of luck on your novel. Francis

Anonymous said...

Glad I found out about your novel. It's really good.

Anonymous said...

I love this book. Must have more.